Toronto Star

October 20, 1999

Behind a crime, some sorry lives

Hancox murder trial reveals world few can fathom

By Rosie DiManno
Toronto Star Columnist

It is unspeakably sad to witness a person's private shame turned into a public spectacle.

A murder trial will do that, even one not as grubby and sordid as that unfolding in Courtroom 4-9 on University Ave.

What's becoming clear is that Detective Constable Bill Hancox - killed by a knife to the chest as he sat in his undercover vehicle Aug. 4, 1998 - was not the only person damned on that sorry, sorry night.

Elaine Rose Cece and Mary Barbara Taylor stand accused of second-degree murder. Before this trial began last week, both attempted to plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter, but were rebuffed.

Rejection is familiar to these women, who don't deny that they have killed. It is also alleged one of them killed at the other's urging, as proof of love.

This will not make sense to most of us, who hail from a different place and a different reality.

Crown Attorney John McMahon had warned in his opening address that this would be a trial of human deformity - twisted values, coarse lives, squalid relationships. The jury might find some of his own witnesses morally repellent.

But evidence has no morality. The jurors, McMahon cautioned, would be introduced to a seedy universe which, while unfathomable to them, is grimly normal to others.

Those ``others'' began to take the stand yesterday. The most pitiful: Daniel William Herreman. He is 28 and the brother of co-accused Mary Barbara Taylor.

Herreman is on welfare. He lives with two roommates in a Carlaw Ave. house. His bedroom is in the basement. In August of last year, his mother, Gwen, and her boyfriend were sharing that bedroom with him - had been for some time.

Another roommate slept just outside the bedroom, in an area of open basement, with no privacy. A third roommate had his bedroom at ground level. All five shared a living room on the first floor and a bathroom in the basement. The landlord had the top floor.

They drank a lot of beer. At least some of them smoked dope and crack cocaine.

No, they were not the Cleavers. They are what some people - not me - would describe, in shorthand and without insight, as white trash.

But as Herreman, and before him roommate Thomas Albert DeRosie, described the nature of their existence, of what was both normal and taken for granted, an interloper in their lives - a juror, a member of the courtroom audience - could begin to understand how disparate elements converge into calamity; how cynical attitudes toward life and death can be cultivated in such a barren domestic landscape; how one man, a complete stranger, can be slain in the blink of an eye, with little forethought and so little sorrow.

This is where Cece and Taylor come from.

Herreman's police record was read aloud. It was lengthy but almost absurdly picayune. Multiple thefts under $1,000, failure to appear, mischief, unlawfully at large - the kind of infractions that build one atop another and strangle a man's future. Clumsy crimes. Herreman was not a very good thief.

As he acknowledged the litany of felonies, his sister - for the first time showing any spontaneous emotion - doubled over, as if she were going to be sick, and began to weep.

Rose Cece put a comforting arm around her lover, rubbing Taylor's broad back. It was, believe me, a gesture of tremendous intimacy. As if they were completely alone.

Last Aug. 4, 'round midnight, Herreman was already in bed sleeping when someone entered his bedroom and switched on the light. It was his sister - and standing just behind her, ``Rosie.'' Herreman knew they were lesbians, although he'd met Cece, a native woman (as has so often been mentioned in court), on only a few occasions. He hadn't even seen Mary/Barbara Ann for some six weeks.

Then, in front of Herreman and her mother and her mother's boyfriend, Joe, Taylor declared: ``There's something I have to tell you guys . . . Rosie just stabbed someone . . .''

And Cece, Herreman said, confirmed it: ``She said, `Yes, I did.' ''

(The earlier witness, DeRosie, had already told the court that Taylor - after announcing to him on arrival that Cece had stabbed someone who'd then pulled the knife out of his own chest - had gone to the basement alone. DeRosie testified Cece had stayed upstairs for about 10 minutes, and said to him: ``You don't believe that, do you? She's been telling everybody that story.'')

Herreman didn't believe them. But he turned on the TV and saw a bulletin - an officer had been rushed to Sunnybrook with no vital signs.

That was the first, Herreman said, that the women knew the man Cece had stabbed was a police officer.

``They panicked,'' Herreman recalled. ``They wanted to get out of Ontario, or go up north somewhere.''

Gwen Herreman urged the women to turn themselves in. ``Mary said, no, she's not gonna do life.''

And it was at this point, in this decorous forum, that Dan Herreman's hard-won composure crumbled and he cried. He was in a courtroom betraying his sister. Even if it was not for the first time.

It was Herreman who, two days later, would walk down the street to a pay phone and call police.

It does take courage, to do the right thing, in a wronged life.

Dan Herreman got a $1,000 Crime Stoppers reward.

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